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27436  All across the Great Western territory / Across the West / Re: Help wanted re: wheelchair spaces in 1st class on: November 05, 2007, 05:52:07 am
I was in First Class yesterday ... the seat opposite the wheelchair space is G1.   I'm very happy to fill that in just in case anyone does a google search with the question and happens to find us.
27437  All across the Great Western territory / Who's who on Western railways / Passenger Focus - current focus on: November 04, 2007, 06:57:33 pm
Gary Dangerfield of Passenger Focus, commenting at Rail Future conference in Ely yesterday

Passenger Focus currently have major projects / concentration on:

Seats for Passengers
Disruption Management

In order to provide the correct service, they have surveyed travellers asking them what's most important and in order the top five were:

1. Value for Money
2. Trains to run at the time they are wanted
3. Punctuality
4. A seat when travelling
5. Information available

Would anyone like to help me fill the thread in by saying a bit about Passenger Focus? Thanks!
27438  All across the Great Western territory / Introductions and chat / Looking at forum demographics (a.k.a. "How old are you?") on: November 04, 2007, 06:52:39 pm
There are some important issues in Rail User Group circles in relation to the demographic mix of the people who get involved, and whether they represent the people who use of want to use the service.

Can I ask everyone reading this thread (yes, YOU!) to answer the poll above to indicate your age group?  At this stage, I can only guess at the outcome. If it shows we have a good mix, it adds weight to our arguments, and if it shows up a distortion from a typical cross-section, we can look at how we're not reaching certain groups.  Thanks!

P.S.  This is anonymous / neither I nor any of the moderators can see how you vote!
27439  All across the Great Western territory / Across the West / Re: Do You Like Refreshed HST's? on: November 04, 2007, 06:47:26 pm

New Seat (First Class)

Old Seat (First Class)

(OK - so there were some VERY cheap First class bargains this weekend  Wink )
27440  Journey by Journey / Shorter journeys in Devon / Re: Class 142 Pacers in service on Devon branch lines, 2007 to 2011 - merged topic on: November 04, 2007, 06:43:35 pm
Butting in on this and pulling the thread back on track.   I was up in Ely yesterday listening to a talk by Bob Breakwell - he's a non executive director of FGW (First Great Western) who's been in the industry for many years, and he very specifically mentioned 142s to Cornwall.   Yes, all the stuff about them not being wanted - but "it was them or no trains at all". 

It might be that he's mistaken ... it might be that his information is old ... or it might just be worth checking with someone again.  After all, he IS a director of the company and I'm sure he was briefed before a talk to a national rail conference.  First are vey good at the briefing and staying in line thing!
27441  All across the Great Western territory / Who's who on Western railways / Talk by Bob Breakwell, non executive at First Great Western on: November 04, 2007, 06:26:35 pm
Rail Futures conference, 3.11.07

Presentation by Bob Breakwell, non executive director of FGW (First Great Western) and many years in the rail industry.  Mr Breakwell's presentation, given in Ely, concentrated on East Anglia which is an area he knows well; his role at FGW is to sit in board meetings once a month. He does not get involved in day to day operations, and although he was able to answer a few points from a national audience that strayed west of Paddington, I felt that these points were the official line.  He is a very smooth speaker, well able to answer the questions that he wishes rather than the ones asked, and (perhaps rightly in some cases, mind you) able to stand behind his non-exec role and say "not my concern" [paraphrashed] to minor issues such as provision of appropriate service [Wiltshire].

For the majority of his talk, Mr B avoided FGW - "Currently I'm in East Anglia and I have not been aske to talk about other areas" .... HOWEVER ...

[These are my notes - E & O E]

Detailed notes on Bob Breakwell's speech as it was specific to FGW. Bob Breakwell is a director of First Great Western. Much of what was said was known to me, but I think I understood him to say:

a) That St Philips' Marsh Depot will now be completed by next May (2008)
b) That Pacers ARE going to Cornwall - "We don't like it, but it's them or no trains at all"
c) That the West fleet refurbishment will run for 18 months as it's a very complex operation with lots of different train types involved (I had previous understood it to be scheduled for completion next September)
d) That there are no suitable routes that the class 180 trains could operate in the FGW area.
e) That FGW have their hands full already providing services up to the SLC (Service Level Commitment) level, are looking to consolidate, and cannot be expected to provide any new services such as the TransWilts. (I don't like the application of the term "new" to the TransWilts service - it makes it look like an attempt to hide that fact that FGW were the company who pulled the plug on the appropriate trains last December and are now trying to walk away from that!)

I'm unsure as to whether any of these are breaking news, brought about as policy and date changes under the new management, or if they're the opposite (i.e. things that have been superceeded / already answered).

Any clarification / comments welcome.

Pacer (2 car). Original cost to build - 100k pounds per unit. Current leasing cost 300k per unit per year. We are cautioned that leasing cost does include heavy maintainance which can be very expensive, and that's why the figures look out of proportion.

27442  Journey by Journey / London to Swindon and Bristol / Comparing one First company to another. on: November 04, 2007, 06:08:36 pm
Friday, 2nd November

17:55 from Chippenham to Paddington - left 8 late, arrived 17 late.
20:15 King's Cross to Ely - Clean, efficient, on time.

Sunday, 4th November

10:56 from Ely to King's Cross - Clean, efficient, on time.
13:03 Paddington to Chippenham. Left on time without any hint of problems, but bustituted from Swindon.  Arrived 30 after schedule in Chippenham.

"Why is is that travelling by train always seem to be such an EVENT" asks my wife Lisa - we've been up to Ely for the weekend, and I'm not surprised that the section in and out of Paddington was where we had the issues!

Four samples isn't statistically significant, I know ... but it was good to get the impression that another part of the First empire (First Capital Connect) can run trains routinely to the clock, and hopefully we'll see it improve in that direction around here.

"No Melksham" I hear you cry?  CORRECT - That would have had us arrive in Ely just before midnighht on Friday, and with a conference presentation to do the next day it wasn't on.  Oh - and I would still be on the road today, and not home for over 3 hours yet.

Ely, our destination, has a smaller population that Melksham according to the census.  It also has about six trains an hour at a bustling station ...
27443  All across the Great Western territory / Fare's Fair / Full fares are VERY expensive - official! on: November 04, 2007, 06:05:15 pm
13:03 Paddington to Bristol today

The Train Manager goes through his pre-departure announcements. "Passenger should ensure they have the correct ticket ... we do not have discression on leisure advanced tickets, which are very good value but totally inflexible, and if you are on the wrong train you are them liable for the very expensive full single fare ..."

The emphasis on the "very" isn't mine ... that was part of the announcement.
27444  Sideshoots - associated subjects / Campaigns for new and improved services / Swindon - Salisbury via Chippenham, Melksham, Trowbridge, Westbury on: November 02, 2007, 07:01:36 am
Here's a background piece on the "Save the Train" Campaign - as prepared for a presentation I'm doing in the next few days.  Services across Wiltshire - a congested road corridor and a rapidly growing train service - were smashed back last December under the new service level committment implemented by First Great Western at the behest of the DfT» (Department for Transport - about) - based on outdated statistics with proven-incorrect-already pessimistic growth forecasts.

Save the Train

* Origins

Founded - August 2005. A Web site, as a result of seeing a letter in the local paper which said "do you realise you have missed the consultation for 2007 train services".

We didn't realise. There were no signs at the station or on the trains. No press notices. And later on we discovered under Freedom of Information that the consultation on what services the new franchise should be provided had actually been run after the specification had been sent out, and that civil servants had discussed how to minimise the effects of the consultation. So I don't feel too guilty that we didn't realise.

* Objectives

1. To bring the case for an appropriate train service connection the five major population centres of Wiltshire to the serious attention of those able to specify, finance and provide such a service.

2. To have the case seriously and fully evaluated in order to establish what an appropriate service actually comprises.

3. To work for the provision of such an appropriate service (includes service level, timing, pricing, reliability,booking arrangements, publicity, comfort)

4. To work for the retention of that service once achieved, and of any lesser service prior to that point both as at least some service to the curent customers, and as a stepping stone to the future.

* Organisation

"Save the Train" is largely internet / web based in its activities - the medium is an effective one, and many of the major protagonists are heavy users of that technology. But we are working closely with other groups towards common goals - in the local area there's the Melksham Railway Development Group and The West Wilts Rail Users Group. Further afield you have organisations such as Travel Watch South West (formerly SWPTUF (South West Passenger Transport User's Forum (now TWSW» (TravelWatch SouthWest - website) - Travel Watch South West))) , the Campaign for Better Transport (formerly Transport 2000), Campaign against New Beeching Report, and RailFuture.

We have a loose committee, liaise through email, with occasional committee or public meetings. We're not hesitant about calling and publicising meetings, but have tried to resist the regular meeting trap. Activities are all low budget, so contributed by members. For example, I don't notice the 2 pounds a year that it costs to register our internet domain, which is hosted on a server that has spare capacity anyway. Members give their time freely; any time available is appreciated.

* Outcomes

First objective (known). When we came to the case, the TransWilts service was two sentences in the middle of 100 page SRA» (Strategic Rail Authority - about) report covering Paddington to Pembroke Dock to Penzance. Now it (and the town of Melksham, served only by the line) are much better known.

Second Objective (looked at). From an initial reaction which verged on the "don't be silly and ask for more that 2 trains a day" we moved forward to a very serious proposal for 5 a day from this December - DfT, County Council and First all on board, as confirmed by FOI (Freedom of Information). And the County Council has concluded that an appropriate level of service would be hourly each way.

Third Objective (implemented). No. Not acheived. The detailed proposals that we were almost-promised ("just needs to be signed off by Network Rail") at a public meeting in May disappeared from the draft timetable from this coming December; reasons not totally clear to me.

Fourth Objective (retention and lesser goals). We strongly suspect that in August 2006 when the service was withdrawn for 10 days that it would have returned as a bus ... as per current precedents in Staffordshire and Watford. However, publicity and activities including a gathering of VIPs on the station before six in the morning resulted in the appearance of a smarter-than-normal service.

A new southbound service, operated on a commercial basis by First Great Western, starts early on a Sunday evening in December. It's just one train a week, but it's at a time that it plugs a real hole and it's significant in demonstrating goodwill and being commercial.

Train cancellations remain a serious issue (to the extent that First have installed a special bus stop labelled "Rail Replacement services" at Trowbridge station), but we're no longer in the same class as the 07:10 Bristol to Paddington which is cancelled on around 25% of the time.

Early Morning buses from Melksham, and evening buses back, now make calls at the railway station in Chippenham. After an unbelievably hard struggle, the bus stop at the station now carries the times of those buses. They are clearly used, judging by the complaints from Chippenham taxi drivers that fares to Melksham have dried up .

For full presentation, see

See also for the main "Save the Train" web site
27445  All across the Great Western territory / Across the West / Re: Short Formed Trains Tonight on: November 01, 2007, 05:24:46 pm
142.... bring em on.........wonderful bits of kit much better than a maggot {153} any day

Now I understood that a 153 was a "dogbox" which is your handle ... but you don't seem keen on them?
27446  All across the Great Western territory / Fare's Fair / Re: Unfair pricing system for Swindon commuters on: November 01, 2007, 03:51:37 pm
I understand that ticket prices from Chippenham / Swindon to London are the most expensive  anywhere in Europe on a main line, mile for mile on a regular train. The are "long distance" fares which were allowed to rise to a very much higher level per mile than more local ("commuter") fares many years ago, especially on services that were very fast and very high  quality compared to what was general at the time.   So that's really "when the HSTs (High Speed Train) were brought in".     As a result, it's often much cheaper to buy two tickets for two parts of the journey which you are allowed to do provided that the trains you use stop at the swap over point.  So if you buy separate Swindon - Didcot and Didcot-Paddington, you can't use a train that goes nonestop from Reading to Swindon.

FGW (First Great Western) are right that these fares are controlled - i.e. not set by them.  They could (if they wanted to boost traffic) offer special fares at a lower rate and indeed they do so in off peak times with a bewildering array of conditions designed to stop them being useful to peak hour commuters.  But I thing their feeling is "why should we reduce fares on that service in the peak when the train is full anyway - it's more money to pay for our franchise and shareholders" and in a commercial world they're right.

27447  Journey by Journey / TransWilts line / Re: An Introduction to the lack of trains on the TransWilts on: October 31, 2007, 09:33:40 pm
The Route, the traffic from North to South in Wiltshire

Ruth Kelly and the Department for Transport has just published (30th October 2007) their report entitled "Towards a Sustainable Transport System: Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World", and I took a look at some of its 90 pages. Page 27 includes a diagram showing road conjestion, and I've reproduced a zoomed section here.

* Roads shown in red cause an annual total loss of up to 139000 hours per km
* Roads shown in Orange cause an annual loss of between 6500 and 28000 hours
* And roads shown in blue cause a loss of under 6500 hours per km per annum.
(There are no roads on this section with a loss of over 139000 hours per km.)

You can see the major North - South traffic flows at the Western end of my map - a fairly clear run up from Salisbury to Warminster, but the two severely overloaded road routes from that area via Bath to the M4 (that's to the left) and via Chippenham to the M4 (that's to the right). 

The towns of Swindon, Chippenham, Melksham, Trowbridge, Westbury and Warminster - and Salisbury and Frome too - are slated for major growth with up to 50% more homes in the next 20 years.

I undertstand that an agreement bewteen Wiltshire County Council and BaNES (Bath and North East Somerset) will route additional traffic via the right hand leg to relieve the left hand leg once the section at Westbury has been bypassed.

Would you like to see how the passenger railway along this corridor fits onto the map?

On that map I have also added the place names - the largest five population centres in Wiltshire (Swindon, Salisbury, Trowbridge, Chippenham and Melksham), and the other two large towns inthe county on the roads concerned - Westbury and Warminster.

I note especially the conjestion indicators for the road past Westbury, and past Melksham.   Remember that there are strong proposals to provide a bypass at Westbury at the moment, but that plans for a relief road around Melksham were dropped from the 10 year plan.   The current proposal for a new Asda store would join directly on to the red section at Melksham.
27448  Journey by Journey / London to Reading / Re: Maidenhead evening timetable (both now and December).. on: October 31, 2007, 03:26:21 pm
Oh dear.. And will FGW (First Great Western) do anything about it? I doubt it!!

I love discussing the TransWilts but we're getting off topic.

I have a big presentation to do - over 100 people - on Saturday and I'm putting my notes together though.   Draft notes including history start here!
27449  Journey by Journey / TransWilts line / An Introduction to the lack of trains on the TransWilts on: October 31, 2007, 03:21:02 pm
History - BF (Brake First (carriage)) (Before First)

The five largest population centres in Wilshire are Swindon, Salisbury, Trowbridge, Chippenham and Melksham and they are linked by the "TransWilts" train service.

In 2001, there were major changes to the service on this line, giving us five trains each way a day running from Swindon through the other towns an on to Southampton.

From 2002 to 2006, service use grew substantially. When asked for figures for the line as a whole, the Office of the Rail Regulator quotes ticket sales for Melksham, a town of 24000 served only by there trains where the number of journey tickets rose from 3200 to 27400 in 5 years - that's a compound grown rate of 35%. Other measures (from Wiltshire County Council and later from the First Group gave more modest growth rates of 10% for the line as a whole.

The 2002/03 figures were used to prepare sevice level requirements for 2007 assumed a growth rate of less than 1%.  Consultations closed in late Spring 2005, and were so limited in publicity that they didn't come to attention of the users of the service or the local communities served.

The conclusion reached by a stunted consultation, and a growth forecast of 1% based on 3000 tickets was rather less favourable that the conclusion that would have been reached with double figure growth from 27000 tickets.  And indeed the decision should have been for an even more dramatic improvement as the whole corridor is slated for 50% growth in housing in the next 20 years.  "Bus alternatives?" I hear you ask. Nah - the road system sucks.  The train from the county town - Trowbridge - to Swindon takes 35 minutes but the "Express" bus takes 95.

History - AW (After Wessex)

Current train service are even worse we envisaged under the FGW (First Great Western) franchise.

The specification called for a commuter train into Swindon, arriving there after 8 a.m and leaving back sometime after 5.30 p.m., plus one other trip each way every day.  Those "clever" people at First, though, noticed that if they run the morning train before the specification time, and leave the evening train until nearly 7 p.m., they can save themselves the leasing cost of a unit.  The extra trains can be run at about 6 in the morning, and 8 in the evening, as balancing workings.  It does nothing practical for travellers on the route, it doesn't even meet the minimum spec (never mind - the spec mysteriously changed) but it's great for shareholders.
Saturday - "two trains each way" and some are sensible, but why oh why was the popular 17:45 shoppers and sports fans train (which for passenger's purposed was balanced by the Saturdays only 09:30 inbound) and replace it with a train that doesn's start until nearly 9 p.m.

And on a Sunday - "two each way" we were told, but the spec changed into "two trains from Westbury to Swindon" in the end.  Complete mystery as to who thinks the Sunday traffic is one-way and is late evening (20:20 and 22:20 into Swindon)

Reliability was an issue in Wessex trains days - I don't have any cancellation figures prior to 2005, but we always had mobile phones with us.  Summer of 2006 wasn't brilliant, but First Great Western assured us that when they cut the trains that December we would see a big change in reliability.  HOW RIGHT THEY WERE! Cancellations rocketed, with up to 40% of trains cancelled in a two week period in January 2007. Even now as I write this at the end of October 2007, 10% of weekday trains were cancelled the week before last, and 10% so far this week have been cancelled too.

We don't monitor weekend trains to the same degree, but historically they have been replaced by buses for engineering reasons on the majority of the weekends. That's not only because of direct engineering works, but also because the line is a major diversionary route and trains linking the hamlets (in London terms) of Chippenham, Melksham, Trowbridge, Westbury and Warminster - total population over 100,000 are withdrawn when they might delay the Plymouth Express that thunders through without bothering to stop.

Taken from an introduction I'm going to present at a national conference this weekend. I do home that the First Great Western Director who will be doing another presentation, and I will be listening to with great interest, doesn't take it upon himself to leave just after he has spoken ...

I will follow up with following sections when I have written them ...
27450  Journey by Journey / London to Reading / Re: Maidenhead evening timetable (both now and December).. on: October 31, 2007, 02:11:27 pm
Hopefully you don't get to suffer the cattle like services with people crammed in that we do, but knowing FGW (First Great Western) I imagine you do?

No, we don't have cattle-like services on the TransWilts at the moment.  It was headed that way until last December, but the timetable changes extended the commuter's day on the only remaining train by 90 (ninety) minutes.  An arrival in Swindon well before 8 a.m., then an evening departure at a quarter to seven, is just too much.   Remember - if we're doing a comparison (dangerous) I'm giving you the equivalent of Paddington time - so that would be the equivalent of leaving Maidenhead at 07:10 and getting back there at around 19:30.

If I drive to Trowbridge, near to use here, and catch  the train to Bristol, sure we get overcrowding. I've been denied access to trains because they can't take any more passengers, and the next one's not always "right behind" - it can be almost an hour.  The gap there will get better from December, since there are two trains an hour but they have been running shortly after each other this year, then leaving a gap.

Your point on numbers of commuters is utterly valid.  First have quote 120000 journeys per annum to me for 2005, and the figure seems sensible. This year, I would be surprised if the Westbury to Swindon service managed a tenth of that.  Current service - crap and crass!
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